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February 26, 2006

Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades e-Books: The (Semi) Official Announcement, Plus a Long Writing Screed

I'm getting tons of e-mail asking me about this so let me tell you what I know:

1. Yes, Tor will be putting out official electronic book versions of Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades.

2. The release dates for the e-Book versions of OMW and TGB are "very soon now (probably in March)" and "some time after very soon now," respectively.

3. No DRM, because DRM on e-books is a silly thing.

4. Release dates, formats and etc are not set in stone yet (say that three times to yourself, or as many times as you need to believe it), so please curb your enthusiasm to managable levels for now.

Here's the somewhat fuller story. As many of you who read science fiction already know, for some time now Baen Books has been publishing many of its titles as e-books as well -- and in a nicely non-annoying Digital Rights Management-free style that says to readers, "hey, we trust you." Perhaps as a result, Baen is one of the few real-world publishers whose e-book division isn't a massive tidal flow of suck, either in terms of finances or in reader aggravation. Baen offers books both through a paid service called "WebScriptions," and a free service (primarily of backlist books) called the Baen Free Library.

Tor Books, which is the publisher OMW and TGB are at, has apparently decided that the way Baen is doing business in the e-books sphere makes more and better sense than any other model, because the two of them are joining forces to offer an e-book initiative for Tor titles. People who know more than me in this matter asked me to stress to you all that there are still fine points to nail down -- not to mention the actual issues of preparing the books for electronic presentation -- so please please please please please be prepared to show some measure of patience during this, the construction period. Seriously, folks, cut them some slack while they set this up.

Having said that, I know that Old Man's War will be part of the very first slate of e-books offered by Tor, so when this Tor/Baen initiative gets switched on, OMW will be there, all winsome and electronic, begging for you to take it home and cuddle with it, using the electronic reader of your choice. TGB does not have a set release date but it will eventually show up. My assumption is that it will be in concert with the paperback release, but I'm not exactly sure how Tor is going to do it, and you know what? I'm not going to tell them how to do that part of their business. I know they want to make money, and I know they've been good at making me money, and for now, that works for me.

To answer questions I know I can answer:

Will this be like Baen's "WebScriptions" plan? Don't know. That particular line of details is hazy to me. All I know is my books will be available; whether a la carte or part of a larger subscription plan, I'm not sure.

Will there be a "Tor Free Library" like the "Baen Free Library"? Again, I don't know. And if there is it's deeply unlikely OMW or TGB would be in it, since they're not quite "backlist" enough. I need to have a few more books before I can actually be thought to have a backlist.

What formats will your books (and others) be in? My understanding is that they will be available in Palm, Microsoft Reader and HTML formats as well as in other formats, too. Whatever you want to read on, you should be able to find a version that will work for you.

No DRM? Really? Really really. Why? Allow me to quote Tor's Patrick Nielsen Hayden on this one:

We've tested a lot of e-book waters, including various cockamamie schemes involving overpriced e-books laden with DRM.Oddly enough, a lot of those "books" didn't even sell enough copies to pay for their file-conversion costs.

Meanwhile, it hasn't escaped our notice that Jim Baen has been doing something that works, that people like, and that makes money. I'm delighted to be doing this pilot program; I think Jim has been clueful on this issue for a long time, while almost everyone else in publishing has been staggering around on stage hitting one another over the head with inflated pig bladders.

This is a very fine point to make: Tor's not doing this because it's a golly-neat idea, they're doing it because it makes money -- or at the very least, makes money for Baen, a book publisher who happens to be in the same line of business as Tor. Look, I know this much about Tom Doherty, the publisher of Tor: the man knows the book business rather precisely like a jaguar knows his bend of the Amazon -- he knows every rock and cranny and food source and has an instinct about how to sell books that just plain weirds out other folks. I don't see him giving a greenlight to something that's going to mess with his livelihood, or the livelihood of his staff and writers. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tor's senior editor, is likewise unspeakably smart and also knows his business. The two of them make money -- and more importantly for me, have helped me make money. If they think this is worth doing, I'm going to listen to them because selling my work is their business -- literally (a word that works on many levels here).

Now, it is axiomatic that the interests of a publisher and the interests of the writer do not always coincide. But this is where my own not small experience with the online world comes into play. More than most writers, I'd say, I am aware of the value of electronic editions of my work, both as a tool for reader acquisition and as a profit center. I know I've made money selling DRM-less editions of my books online (as shareware, even); I know electronic versions of my books have promoted sales of my physical books. And anyone who knows me knows I'm not a huggy-squeezy socialist hippie when comes to making money, which (among other reasons) is why I tend to make more money than most other writers at my level of fame (read: mostly obscure). My feeling on the matter is that these particular e-books are likely to be a good financial deal for me.

But aren't I worried about (arrrrrr!) piracy? Someone could just take one of my DRM-less novels and share it online! With everyone! (Arrrrrr!)

Well, see. The problem with digital rights management for literature is that there's a huge analog hole in the security called "books." Over at Baen's Bar, the online bulliten board run by the Baen folks, one of the members there describes how he's made an unofficial personal e-book version of Old Man's War with "a hardcover copy, an Epson scanner, FineReader 6.0, and some eyeball sweat." You know what's keeping him from uploading that copy to one of the online file-sharing services? Aside from his own personal sense of morality, not a damn thing. More to the point, anyone with a internet-enabled computer, a scanner, OCR software and a library card can do exactly the same thing.

Don't get me wrong: If you're stupid enough to upload a book of mine and leave a trail of crumbs I can follow back to you, I'll be quite pleased to sue your ass (or more accurately, will be quite happy to have Tor sue your ass, because its corporate parent Holtzbrinck has got a whole flock of lawyers assembled just for that very purpose). My information does not want to be free; it wants to pay my mortgage. But slapping DRM onto an e-book doesn't do a damn thing other than annoy people who buy the book online -- i.e., one's actual customers.

The only possible way to make to make DRM work for e-books at all is to stop selling physical books, and even then it's doomed to failure. You can lock down the text, you can even lock down the computer (so, say, you can't take a screenshot of the page while the DRM-protected text is online). But you can't lock down people's eyeballs. Or their fingers. You know what's stopping a pirate (arrrrr!) from typing up an entire book? Nothing. And maybe you're thinking that most people wouldn't bother, but you have to remember: In the digital age all it takes is one person, and there are enough people out there who would do it just to make the point that they can. In short, DRM for e-books is pointless and stupid and it's just as well Tor is shut of it.

Will people share the e-text? Probably. Will it cut into my sales? Don't know about that. For one reason, although book publishers don't talk much about it, sale volumes on books is low relative to the sales volume of other entertainment media. If a writer sells 50,000 copies of a novel from a major publisher, she gets to call herself a "best-seller;" if a musician sells 50,000 copies of an album from a major record label, she gets to call herself "released from her contract." The major problem for authors is not piracy but obscurity, as I and so many others have noted again and again and again and yet again after that. I'm doing pretty well as far as readers go, especially as a newer-ish novelist, but I wouldn't mind having more readers, and people sharing the book is one way to do that. Please, folks, won't you let your friends borrow a copy of my book? I thank you for your evangelism.

For another reason that follows logically from the first, if I may be allowed an ego moment, I believe I write well enough that my writing creates fans -- that is to say, people for whom I am a favorite writer, and who wish to see me succeed and who understand (quite rightly, as it happens) that their going out to the bookstore and picking up the book makes a material difference in my life, and therefore want to show their appreciation in that way. This isn't just based on an inflated sense of ego, mind you; back when I was still calling Agent to the Stars "shareware," I said the suggested contribution was $1. But when people sent in money, they sent in rather more than that; my average net (even throwing out the guy who sent in $200, because he was clearly an outlier) was something like $3.70, and over the course of its shareware run it made $4,000. Which ain't bad for a shareware novel from no one back when the site was getting between 500 and 2,000 visits a day. I'm mildly curious to see what would happen if I offered a "shareware" work today. Maybe I'll do that at some point.

However, my point now is that I'm a writer, and a major part of my business as a writer is creating a community of readers who are invested in my success. My books are part of that (as long as they're worth reading, that is); this site is part of that. When someone shares a work of mine, that's an opportunity for me to invite someone new into that community. Some people will join in, some people won't, but on balance I believe based on my personal experience that there will be enough of these people to make a career, as long as I keep up my end of the bargain and bang out words worth reading.

There are likewise a number of writers who believe that e-books could spell doom for us all -- that one person will buy a book and a thousand people will share it and we'll all starve. Of course they have a perfect right to believe this, but while leaving aside any questions of literary competence (which often has nothing to do with book sales, alas), I've noticed many of these writers aren't actually selling books in the here and now. Does this matter? Sure it does. The opinion of someone selling cars today is more informed than that of someone who stopped selling cars when the Chevey Citation was on the production line; the opinion of someone selling computers today is more informed than someone whose experience with computers ended with the Apple ][. Publishing changes slowly but it certainly does change; it's not the same market it was even five years ago, and certainly not the same market as it was a decade back (it is, I am assured, utterly unrecognizable from what it was twenty years ago).

I am selling books in the here and now; so is my editor and so is my publisher. We all like to make money. We are saying e-books could indeed make us money, and not just a little, but enough to matter. We're also saying that we have enough faith in the books we make -- and in the people who read them -- that people will continue to buy them, regardless of the media in which they exist, and even without locking them down with some pointless security scheme. We could be wrong about this, but I doubt we will be.

Posted by john at February 26, 2006 05:20 PM

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Tracked on February 26, 2006 10:29 PM


Louis-Philippe Huberdeau | February 26, 2006 06:33 PM

I like to hear authors speaking against DRM. I think the entertainment industry went way too far in the stop piracy road. So far that it's causing troubles to the honest customers. For me, the main problem with DRM is that it stops me from using the content I pay for. As a GNU/Linux user, I don't have access to all their decoders or whatever they use.

As for the books, I heard a statistic a few months ago saying that in the province of Quebec, each sold book was read by an average of 6 or 7 people. I guess the only exception to this is Harry Potter, since __everyone__ runs to the book store and get a copy on the release day.

One of the good ways I saw to avoid spreading of books online is done by php|architect. When you buy an electronic copy of their magazine, a PDF is generated just for you. The document is password protected and your name and email address is written on the cover page. It's some kind of DRM, but at least it's not restrictive for the customer, other than the password (It's probably not required anyway).

rws | February 26, 2006 07:08 PM

I think the most important point you made was about obscurity. If no one knows you exist, no one will bother to look at your work. Easy access to your "product" is the best advertising you can have.

As an example, I worked on a television show last year, on both sides of the camera. The show has been airing on a cable channel for a couple of months, but last week was the first time I saw the show available for download on the bittorrent network. Seeing that made me very happy indeed, because it showed that there was enough interest amongst viewers that some actually thought it worthwhile to share their enjoyment with others. In fact, I just checked, and there have been more than 10,000 downloads from one site alone, in less than two days. You can't begin to buy this level of advertising unless you have a contact with a big studio or distributor. Will it affect the bottom line for the show's owners ? I'm sure it will, extremely positively, in fact. There's nothing a potential investor likes more than seeing tangible evidence that people like the product. And for me, it looks real good for another season of work, meaning more money directly in my pocket. So, I say to you, go forth and download, with my blessing. Make me rich.

O.G.N | February 26, 2006 07:20 PM

Great news. Tor has rather a lot of stuff I would buy as ebooks if I can get them in a sensible format.

Speaking of formats, when you log on to the Webscription site you can read your books online, or download them in html, rtf, Mircrosoft Reader, Rocket ebook, and Mobipocket formats. Mobipocket is a an ebook reader available for many types of mobile devices including Palm, Symbian, and WinCE.

Of course having the books in rtf format means you can easily convert them to any other format.

Lanna Lee Maheux-Quinn | February 26, 2006 07:21 PM

"the man knows the book business rather precisely like a jaguar knows his bend of the Amazon "

For a minute I thought, "there are jaguars on Amazon.com? Interesting."

Then I remembered that there was a river called the Amazon, and all was okay.

Bill Bradford | February 26, 2006 07:22 PM

I have to pitch in here and agree that Jim Baen's idea *worked*. I started reading "A Hymn Before Battle" from the Baen Free LIbrary (after I converted it to a PDF). Halfway through, I ran out to Borders and picked up the paperback. The next day, I went back and bought the entire rest of the series up to that time.

Since then, I've bought everything else that Ringo has put out in hardback (because I don't want to wait for paperback), and just finished "Kildar" last night. All of that because of a single free ebook.

(I also just got back from picking up the only copy of TGB that Borders had left..)

Tim | February 26, 2006 07:32 PM

Interesting discussion.

BTW, I just finished reading TGB last night. I got the last copy from a distant branch of Barnes & Noble (no branch of Borders had a copy in the Phoenix area according to their web site).

Peter | February 26, 2006 07:44 PM

John, this is great news. I'd always thought very highly of Baen's forward-looking approach to e-books ; I'm delighted to hear that another publisher has seen the light. It's all the better that said other publisher is Tor.

Do you have any idea how the e-books will be priced, compared to hardcopy versions?

Peter | February 26, 2006 07:52 PM

Oh, by the way, is it okay if I make a post to my LJ linking people to this?

Jason M. Robertson | February 26, 2006 07:56 PM

This is very good news. I buy a decent chunk of Tor novels, and I can imagine a number of schemes for this service that would work out well for me. And heck, if they happen to launch it with a more officially engaged web presence too, that would be double plus awesome.

Of course, my impulse for budgetary frugality will likely be overriden by my need to read TGB sooner rather than later.

John Scalzi | February 26, 2006 08:26 PM


"Oh, by the way, is it okay if I make a post to my LJ linking people to this?"

Of course!

Jerry Hill | February 26, 2006 08:30 PM


will shetterly | February 26, 2006 09:34 PM

Delighted to hear Tor's finally making the plunge.

I think many publishers have missed an important aspect of their business: They're not selling little white bricks in pretty wrappers. That's the bookstore. They're not selling stories. That's us. They're selling a promise: We think this story is good enough that we paid an author so we could offer it to you, the reader. That's the difference between a known publisher, a new publisher, and a vanity house.

E-books with the Tor promise of quality ought to do just fine in the strange new future of publishing.

I hope you do really, really well, 'cause I'll be finishing my next book for Tor in a month or so.

Christopher Davis | February 26, 2006 10:27 PM

As I mentioned on Charlie Stross's LJ when he posted about this, I suspect I am going to be spending a lot of money on these books.

For the same portability-related reasons that I buy mass market paperbacks of books I already own in hardback, I will pay reasonable prices for books I already own (possibly in two or even three physical copies) so I can load 'em on my Palm.

And, yes, OMW and TGB would be very very high on my list, despite owning both in hardcover. Even if your cut of the ebook deal is minuscule, that's two minuscule payments you wouldn't have had before right there.

rochelle | February 26, 2006 11:30 PM

I've been waiting for the library where I work to get Ghost Brigades, but may just wait for the e-version. As someone who has worked for 2-3 years on an ebook project that takes a dim view of DRM, I am doubly tickled that you are with a publisher who really gets e-books and what they have to offer. Despite my involvement I don't read many ebooks because, as I've told the lead person on the project, I want the technology to be as easy to use as my toaster, and it's just not there yet.

The library where I work has ebooks through NetLibrary. The selection is thin, the titles as expensive or more than regular books, AND, the kicker: our patrons can't download the titles. You can "check out" the books, but you have to be online to read them. Doh! It's been difficult to be positive about the service to patrons when it truly sucks.

Thanks for sharing what is good news for all of us!--rochelle

John Scalzi | February 26, 2006 11:41 PM

Will Shetterly:

"E-books with the Tor promise of quality ought to do just fine in the strange new future of publishing."

Yes, this is my thinking about it as well. People who know SF know Tor. There's credibility there. Also, can't wait for your new book!

Stephanie Leary | February 26, 2006 11:58 PM

I foresee a tangential benefit: someone at Tor is going to have to update the website once in a while!

John Scalzi | February 27, 2006 12:01 AM

We don't talk about the Tor Web site. Although there are rumors of a shiny new version sometime before the Rapture (religious or singularity variant, your choice).

Scott Westerfeld | February 27, 2006 12:21 AM

Your point about record sales is the key one here, because a lot of this has to do with scale.

The big-boys of the record industry are obsessed with DRM partly because of their lame business model, which assumes that every artist is Mariah Carey. They spend millions on development, packaging, and marketing, and hope to produce product that everyone is humming. Then EVERYONE has to pay, just to break even on those absurd set-up costs. (Oh, and this also leads to crappy music, but that's another issue.)

Like an indie label, Tor is shooting for much smaller numbers. Their set-up (i.e., advances, editorial, and marketing) costs are relatively miniscule. It's okay if "only" a quarter or even a tenth of the people reading a work pay for it, because you can get 100,000 people sampling a book online, only 3,000 of which would have bought the thing in a bookstore. The numbers in hardcover sf are simply THAT low.

It's not just individual writers that suffer from obscurity: Whole genres can wither and die. Maybe this move will this help ours grow.

Jon | February 27, 2006 01:51 AM

Pragmatic Press has been selling DRM-less books in PDF form quite successfully. http://www.pragmaticprogrammer.com/

The PDFs are generated when you order though -- they put your name and address into the header on the page. They even allow you do log in and redownload the PDF (with corrected errata, since that's important in a technical book) forever.

tobias Buckell | February 27, 2006 03:14 AM

"It's not just individual writers that suffer from obscurity: Whole genres can wither and die. Maybe this move will this help ours grow."

Seriously, go visit the Western Writers Association homepage, you can *see* virtual tumbleweed blowing through it, I'd hate to see SF go that route!

As a fellow TOR author I'm totally chuffed about all this, and looking forward to jumping aboard as soon as they'll let me (I imagine towards paperback time, still, very cool)...

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | February 27, 2006 07:24 AM

Don't get me started about the Tor web site. Yes, we have an entirely new one almost ready to roll out.

Jens Guld | February 27, 2006 07:36 AM

I have been a Baen bar fly for some years and I am quite happy with this development. Baen mentioned it in the bar but gave few details.
A nit: Scalzi tells us that he will sue any uploader higher than Haman. Wrong think. Commercial pirates should certainly be given the treatment but the amateurs netto netto just give you free advertising.
Scalsi should revisit Baen's Bar, enter Free Library and then Prime Palaver.
I particularly recommend Palaver #4 and Palaver #6.
Yes the freeloaders we shall always have with us, but...

John Scalzi | February 27, 2006 08:48 AM

Jens Guld:

"Commercial pirates should certainly be given the treatment but the amateurs netto netto just give you free advertising."

Bah. "Free advertising" is the last rationalization of a scoundrel. "Free advertising" is also the same line people give me when they want me to write without paying me; it's always funny how "free advertising" means in one way or another I don't get paid for my work.

If someone wants to pass the book among friends, that's one thing. That's a recommendation from someone that friend trusts, and that has value to me. Uploading the book via eDonkey, on the other hand, doesn't have that value, it's just people sharing files in a largely anonymous fashion, and that doesn't do me any good.

The reason I have an entire novel online and for free on my site is so that people can freely sample my writing and see if they like it. To that respect I've more than amply done my bit for the cause of "free advertising." Outside of that I prefer my work not be anymously mass-shared. I mean, please, share the book with your good friends; sharing with some downloader in Burundi, not so much.

Jemaleddin | February 27, 2006 09:00 AM

Wow John, that is fantastic news. I'm glad to see that more of the publishing world is getting its act together. Of course, it only makes sense that SF would lead the way on this. If they didn't...

Oh, and because I'm a bastard:

. . .if I may be allowed an ego moment. . . that their going out to the bookstore

Nice. My dad caught me with a typo like that one last week and just had to comment on it. So let me take an ego moment and say: I'm just as good a writer (typist) as John Scalzi. =-)

John Scalzi | February 27, 2006 09:13 AM

How is that a typo?

Stan | February 27, 2006 09:32 AM

Very good news and good news on the lack of DRM.

There are two general problems with copy protection.

1. Almost all of it gets cracked within days by people who know what they're doing. For example, Adobe's DRM is easily defeated by code that prints the text to a new pdf.

2. Protection makes the software/files more finicky so they work with fewer formats and are more likely to become unusable.

The net result is no reduction in piracy but less utility for the average user.

From my limited understanding, watermarked PDFs are a decent solution. They are tedious to remove but have no effect other than fingerprinting the copy so you can track down whose copy was uploaded.

In the very small world of rpg publishing, straight to pdf is becoming common for micro publishers - it avoids the enormous printing costs for small runs and avoids the hassle of distributors/retailers who don't want such obscure stuff. One vendor tried DRM but quickly switched to watermark due to consumer outcry.

Howard | February 27, 2006 09:33 AM

Because it isn't?


Jemaleddin | February 27, 2006 09:37 AM

Dangit - I misread and looked like a fool! Curse my name!

tobias Buckell | February 27, 2006 09:46 AM

"Don't get me started about the Tor web site. Yes, we have an entirely new one almost ready to roll out. -PNH"

Every once in a while a Tor reader stops me and demands that I explain the Tor website and I kind of mumble something like 'I'm not privy to Tor's inner workings I'm just one of the authors mumble mumble...'

I'm looking forward to the new site though :-)

Alan | February 27, 2006 10:00 AM

I'm at the point now where I'd rather read a book on my PDA than a dead tree edition. What I don't like is being charged the dead tree price for an ebook. Not only does Baen have the no DRM thing down, but they have the right price point as well. I'm looking forward to TOR joining in.

Jennifer | February 27, 2006 06:01 PM

Damn! I would have bought it in e-book had I only er, known before I found GB in the bookstore on Saturday.

Robert A. Mitchell | February 28, 2006 12:11 AM

Glad to see Tor going into the E-Publishing in the Baen style. I've been a Barfly and a buyer of e-books for only a short time, just over a year, but that's more than long enough to spoil me. I won't buy an e-book with DRM, period. I may miss some I'd really like but that's their loss more than it is mine. Like 99% of the other readers I know I tell people about the books I've read, and now about how easy it is to get them from Baen. Like others have said that kind of advertising you can't buy and any astute business man craves all of it he can get.

I'm looking forward to buying some new books, TOR books, in the near future, yours among them John.

RooK | February 28, 2006 12:32 AM

By Finagle's Titanic Testicles, I swear that my already not-inconsiderable appreciation of Baen's Free Library will go exponential with the addition of TOR titles.

It's pure genius. I'll gladly pay a pittance to read low-quality (just the text) versions of stories so that I can pick which ones are worthy of buying the high-quality (hardcopy, generally hardcover) versions. It's exactly the model of music purchasing that works for me too - I buy individual tracks I think I might like online, and use that experience to inform which physical albums I might actually want.

Because, let's face it, as profitable as it might be short-term, pulp chokes the whole industry. Letting the customers bypass the pulp and directly encourage the good stuff is the One True Path ™.

Nonny | February 28, 2006 10:59 AM

Yay! Congrats, and thank you for posting about this. I've been hoping Tor would catch on to Baen's idea for awhile now. I hope they follow the model in regards to pricing; I've seen ebooks online as expensive as paperback books, which, imo, is just ridiculous.

It'd also be nice if they did something similar to Baen's WebScriptions. I personally like very little of what Baen publishes (just not my cup of tea), but I regularly buy a lot of Tor books and would definitely jump on the bandwagon. :)

I personally don't read ebooks all that often, as I don't have an ebook reader and I can't very well lug my desktop around with me to read. LOL. I mostly read fiction online to "sample" an author's work before buying hard copy. (As the library system where I live *sucks*.) Hence my mentioning WebScriptions.

"I'm mildly curious to see what would happen if I offered a "shareware" work today. Maybe I'll do that at some point."

I actually have friends who're doing something like this with their fiction. They're not professionally published (yet), but are posting several projects online as they write and ask people to contribute if they like. They started trying something a bit different a couple months ago; the amount they actively work on and post is directly correlated with the amount of contributions they receive. (They'll still post at least X amount even if no one sends anything, but if people contribute, they'll work on and post more.)

I believe they've made over $1000 in the past three months through this.

Just thought might be a note of interest. :)

Joel Tone | February 28, 2006 03:35 PM

This is great! I've been buying Baen Webscriptions since they first came out and I have been extremely happy with them. Due to a variety of factors, I prefer etexts for reading these days. I look forward to buying Old Man's War and Ghost Brigades. I'm glad you and your publisher are being sensible about DRM books.

Colin F | February 28, 2006 05:43 PM

A sensible move to release in electronic form. Keep us updated.

While it feels like a brave step to forego any form of DRM, I think you're right in your reasoning. Some people will always want to get something for nothing - and Old Man's War is already "available", courtesy of file-sharing networks. However, if there's no legitimate outlet for the digital form of the book then your share of that particular market will be zero. Any sales at all has to be better than none, as long as you cover your (or your publisher's) costs.

I think the relationship you have with your readers is strong enough to ensure that there will be enough demand from those who respect your ownership of the work and are prepared to pay for it.

Would I buy one of them instead of the regular paperback? I'm not quite sure that's a leap I'm ready to make yet, but that's a whole seperate topic and one I'd like to read your thoughts on.

Brad J | March 1, 2006 01:25 AM

Two comments:

  1. This is a very, very good thing for me. I basically don't buy dead-tree books anymore, because I don't read them. They're big and bulky and take up shelf space and are never around when I need them. Ebooks, on the other hand, fit nicely on the SD card in my Palm, and thus get read. Over and over and over. Unfortunately, much of what Baen publishes isn't my cup of tea. Having Tor making books available the same way opens up my options immensely.

  2. DRM: one thing people don't take into account is that any proprietary format can die because the software becomes unsupported. I have my first two ebooks still, marvelous hypertext versions of The Annotated Alice and the Hitchhiker's Guide Trilogy (when it was four books). Next time I upgrade my Macintosh, they will no longer be runnable without special emulation software; they're in HyperCard format, and HyperCard was never upgraded to OSX/Carbon, much less to Intel chips. (I'm not entirely sure it was ever upgraded to PowerPC, to be honest.) These books will become effectively unavailable, and that without any actual DRM placed on them. If they were in an open format (HTML, say), I could easily continue using them in modern programs, or convert them into formats that were usable.

Ted Lemon | March 1, 2006 10:10 PM

Holy crap, this is fantastic news! I like the Baen model of selling books, but unfortunately they've been publishing almost nothing I want to read recently, so it hasn't done me any good. In addition to finally being able to actually pay for a copy of Old Man's War (which I read at my parents' house a year ago), I can get a copy of Ghost Brigades to run on my Nokia 770. I've been reading Accelerando there; it's not great (as a reading experience), but it's not bad, and it doesn't take up space on my shelf. Good luck with this venture (honestly, I don't think you'll need it). I for one am stoked.

Alan Beatts | March 6, 2006 07:46 PM

Hi John,

Nice screed. I found it well considered and quite entertaining (not much of a surprise, considering your writing).

I thought I'd weigh in as a bookseller on the subject of E-books. Though there may be a number of booksellers out there who are uncomfortable with the idea, I like it and think that it drives sales for all the reasons mentioned here. One other thought relative to e-book merits for authors --

Advance Reading copies (or ARCs, the soft cover, poorly produced versions of books that are sent out to booksellers and reviewers prior to a books release) are very expensive for publishers to produce and usually in short supply. As a result, booksellers who might want to read the book prior to release (and thereby be able to build pre-release interest among customers not to mention being able to hand-sell it right when it comes out), often can't get ARCs (assuming that any exist). As e-books and the use of e-book readers become more common, it should be possible to effectively send out unlimited numbers of ARCs, which should result in better publicity for authors and lower publicity costs. (Sidenote - half the staff at Borderlands use PDAs and read books on them)

Now the next trick is to set up a Amazon-style commission system so booksellers get a percentage of e-book sales that originate on their sites and from their email newsletters. Then you can count on me and my staff acting as sales people for Tor's e-books!


Robotech_Master | March 9, 2006 06:56 PM

For some reason the site isn't accepting my trackback ping from HaloScan (I get some sort of error saying "Server said 'You are pinging trackbacks too quickly. Please try again later.'") so I'll just mention that I wrote a journal entry about this here.

I'm really rather excited by this whole thing. Tor is one of the big publishers in the SF field, releasing 6x as many new titles per year as Baen and across a lot wider spectrum of SF and fantasy too. If Tor's broader readership is exposed to the idea that ebooks should be inexpensive and DRM-free, why, who knows where it could end up?

Katharine C. Krueger pen name Kate Saundby | March 12, 2006 03:59 PM

I've been reading ebooks on a regular basis at the of four or five a week since 1998 and am delighted to see that Tor has come around to Jim Baen's way of thinking.

I own 5 wireless ereading devices, an original NuvoMedia Rocket, the Rocket's two successors, a Gemstar 1100 and Fictionwise's EBookwise 1150, a Palm Zire 71 and an hp jornada 540. I read on them interchangeably, depending on which format is available. I only occasionally delve into a print edition these days and do the bulk of my ebook shopping at Fictionwise and Baen Books.

Not that I have anything against print, mind you, but my eyes are 68 years old and I *like* being able to enlarge the text font. Also, I can read in bed with the light off, which keeps my mate happy, and can haul an entire library with me wherever I go; no small thing when packing for a trip. Then there's the storage factor and, last but not least, ebooks don't attract silverfish.

Personally, I despise DRM and will only purchase a DRM title if it's by one of my favorite authors,is one I really, really want and can get no other way and is reasonably priced. I refuse, as a matter of principle, to pay hard cover prices for ebook downloads and finally purchased The Da Vinci Code this past week because Fictionwise was offering a 50% Micropay rebate.

The only DRM formats I will have absolutely nothing to do with are Microsoft's MsReader, Secure Adobe and pdf.

MsReader is a nasty, crash prone program which came preloaded on my jornada 540. After Microsoft decided for reasons best known to themselves not to offer an upgrade for my jornada, (even though I'd had it less than a year, MS called it an 'older PDA), I decided that was it for them.

As for Secure Adobe, the less said about *that* the better. Personally, I believe Secure Adobe was designed for masochists who enjoy this kind of techno grief and no one else.

As for pdf, it's a print publishing program that was designed to be read on a desktop not a PDA. While I peruse and print out pdf documents as part of my day job, my leisure time reading is done either in bed or on the couch with my feet up, or if I happen to be stuck in a line somewhere or waiting for an appointment at the doctor's office.

My only cavil with Baen Books is that it's not the easiest site to navigate and I'll be curious to see how Tor does in this regard.


Katharine C. Krueger

geekd | March 26, 2006 07:59 PM


I first heard about you when I read Agent To The Stars after it was linked on Penny Arcade. That was maybe a year ago. Then, a few weeks ago, I was looking for something to read and saw Old Man's War on Amazon. I am often overly hesitant to try new authors, but then I realised you were the Agent To The Stars guy, so I bought it.

Now to my point: It's Sunday afternoon, the wife is napping, and I'm bored. I figured I'd go to Amazon and buy the Ghost Brigades ebook. I often get the ebook version when I want it NOW!. Well, you don't have one, so I'll probably get Judas Unchained by Peter Hamilton instead.

So you lost a sale, because your ebook isn't ready yet. Don't worry, I really enjoyed Old Man's War, so I'm sure I'll get Ghost Brigade sooner or later, but later might mean a paperback, so less money for you.

Anyway, once your publisher gets their stuff together, you need to release paper and ebooks at the same time, that's all I'm saying.


P.S. Keep writing, you're a good author. There aint many, so I'm happy when I find one.

Ymarsakar | July 16, 2006 12:15 AM

For the people who don't like Baen's books, what do they actually like on that site? Meaning which books or authors.

I only heard about John Scalzi from instapundit. So sending free books to blogs was probably a good marketing decision.

mary | November 24, 2006 11:18 PM

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LordRahl | April 8, 2007 02:29 AM

So where the hell are the e-books? I've spent a lot of time searching for any place to purchase one, and they're nowhere to be found. A YEAR (!) after they were supposedly going to be released... Any comments from the author?

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